ADAMS -- The owners of two dilapidated buildings possess more than half of the total back taxes owed the town, The Eagle has learned, but pollution at both sites makes collection of the debts difficult.
The reason is simple. If the town moves to take either by tax title, it would assume not only problem properties but also the environmental remediation costs associated with them. Each site's contamination resulted from historical use.
The owners of the buildings -- the former Curtis Fine Paper mill at 115 Howland Ave. and a former gas station and auto body garage at 50 Commercial St. -- haven't paid taxes in years.
Their combined bill has grown to slightly less than $500,000 -- $897,000 is the total figure in back taxes owed to Adams. The mill's owner, MJD Real Estate LLC, owes roughly $400,000. Norman Dellaghelfa Jr. manages MJD. The rest is owed by Charles "Rusty" Ransford, owner of the garage.
The tax collector said this week many residents struggle to square debts and the collector's office tries to work with them all, but those with large debts pull everyone else down.
"It sets a bad precedent," said Paula Schrade, a financial assistant in the Treasurer/Collector office.
The mill still is active despite a bylaw in the town's charter barring delinquent taxpayers from operating a business in town.
N. Della Inc. trucks use the site regularly. That contractor's president, secretary and treasurer is listed as Delleghelfa in state corporations division records. The owner also subcontracts Specialty Minerals parking at the site.
An 2010 agreement between MJD and the town allowed MJD to operate at the mill as long as it stayed up to date on taxes and in paying off the former owner's back taxes, which it assumed in the purchase. It's an agreement whose benefit the company still reaps despite apparently not living up to its end of the bargain.
In the second case, Code Enforcement Officer Scott Koczela had the Commercial Street garage condemned years ago. He called the building a "real mess" in an interview this week, noting how the second story and a roof section recently collapsed, the window frames are boarded up and people have littered it it graffiti.
"We're looking into the demolition option, but that requires a funding source," Koczela said.
If the building becomes a public safety threat, Koczela added, and it "means spending the money in an emergency, we'll do it."
Ransford earlier brought a suit against the town for damages on the grounds it denied him building permits. In district court in North Adams, Town Counsel Edmund St. John III pointed out that the attorney Ransford was attempting to use had been disbarred and the court ordered the case ceased before a violation occurred.
In each property's case, pollution seriously hampers any potential action. Without remediation funding the town can do little more than keep an eye on the properties.
"We're in the process of putting together a list of sites we think would be helped by the [Berkshire Brownsfields Program]," Director of Community Development Donna Cesan said Friday.
While the garage's contamination has yet to be assessed, the mill's has.
A contractor hired by the Environmental Protection Agency found various chemicals formerly used in the paper-making process in excess levels in soil samples taken from there in 2010. Shortly after that, MJD filed a petition with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that said it could not deal with the contamination on grounds that it was financially unable to do so.
"Generally speaking [in similar cases], we work out a longer-term agreement [with the property owner]," said DEP spokeswoman Elizabeth Stinehart. "In some cases it may be a very long time before properties get cleaned up because of financial troubles."
The mill is located near a potentially usable aquifer, and in March 2012, a water-bottling entrepreneur asked for and received a letter of support from the town for forthcoming attempts to open a plant there.
James Bonds, president of Berkshire Natural Spring Water Inc., told The Eagle in an interview last week he remained interested in the prospect, and was in the process of working out details. He said he had access to up to $450,000 in start-up capital.
However, a member of the Delleghelfa family told The Eagle this week she didn't think Bonds' idea would come to fruition because of the "EPA issues" at the site. Norman Delleghelfa declined to comment on the property.
Efforts to reach Ransford were unsuccessful.
To reach Phil Demers: email@example.com or (413) 464-1527. On Twitter: @BE_PhilD